The first time anyone actually told me that I was valued in any capacity was at the very end of my second year of college. That was the semester the school put on The Secret Garden. It was my theatrical debut, and I played Mary Lennox -- the main character. It was a role I absolutely did not expect to get. The director of the show was also the director of my program (both the program I was in at the time and the program I'm in now). After the show was over, after all the exams were done, just days before grad, I was in his office -- he had been trying for months to convince me to transfer into the Bachelor's degree, which would take an additional two years. I had finally decided to at least see what it would look like if I did, so we met and went over how my academic life would look if I stayed.
After the discussion on academics, he shifted into 'convince-her-to-stay' mode (or at least that's how I thought of it at the time), because I was still not committing and there was less than a week before I graduated out and then it would be too late. Because I had just stunned everyone on campus with my ability to act in The Secret Garden and because he had directed it, that show was a large focus in the conversation. At one point, he was talking about the process of casting and how it's always kind of a crapshoot on some level, and he said, "Sometimes I get it wrong and sometimes I get it right." He looked at me. "With you I got it very right."
I sat stunned.
I had spent twenty years being told -- both by people close to me and by people on the periphery of my life, verbally and non-verbally -- that I was unimportant. Useless. Annoying. No good at anything. And if you're told something often enough -- by enough people, and by people you are supposed to trust -- eventually you begin to believe it. And the more you hear it, the more deeply ingrained it becomes in your thought process. It's called indoctrination. I had thoroughly believed that I had no importance or usefulness or value whatsoever. In anything. I fully believed that I ruined everything just by the mere fact that I existed and was just wasting valuable oxygen that could have been used for other, more important people. People that others actually needed and liked.
Sure, I grew up with people telling me God loves me, but I had no reference point for that. What is love? His people pretended I didn't exist as much as they possibly could. Because I was so quiet and shy, they could get away with being downright rude about it because I'd never say anything about it and they knew it. I certainly saw it, but I never said anything. Who could I go to? Nobody would have listened to me anyway -- they were all too busy ignoring me.
I tell this story because I am up against this again. Recently I hit my absolute lowest point, and it scared me enough to send me to this same director and tell him I needed help. (He was literally the only person I could think of who I knew would properly listen to me.) He's told me many things in the days since then which have given me the strength to keep fighting, but one of those things was a question: 'why do you believe this lie?' At the time he asked it, I was so exhausted from fighting just to stay alive that I couldn't think of an answer, but the question haunted me: Why do I believe the lie? And it brought me to all these reflections that I shared above -- for twenty years of my life, it was all I knew. It was all I was told. I had literally no reason to believe otherwise.
There was a flash-in-the-pan Canadian boy band in the late '90s/early 2000s that made this song that received fairly significant radio play when I was a kid. It was actually one of those cheesy 'follow your dreams' songs, but if I may shift the context a bit... the chorus ran as follows:
You could be a star shining out in the darkness
You could be a fire blazing into the cold
You could be a voice calling into the silence
You could be as bright as the morning sun
You could be the blue sky after the grey
You could drive the clouds of fear away
You can bring the healing to a world that's come undone
You could be the one...
(Jake, You Could Be The One, 2000)
And you could, dear reader. Just as a college performing arts director was the first person on the planet to tell me I was worth something -- when I was already into my twenties -- you could be the first one to tell someone else that they're worth something. Go do it. Don't wait. You may be the only one who will.